As I write this, a group of Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists are taking a moment from trying to intimidate trans people to have a discussion around privilege on Twitter. Specifically, straight privilege.
This is difficult for them. The problem is that TERFs are horrible transphobic bigots, which becomes obvious if you have a basic understanding of privilege.
Privilege is not a hard concept to understand. There are a multitude of ways in which a person can have privilege, such as sex, skin colour, access to education, etc.. Many of these ways are entirely independent of each other, some are related, but they essentially define a multi dimensional space in which each person occupies a point defined by their various privileges (or lack thereof),
So I, for example, have white privilege, middle class privilege, educational privilege, financial privilege, and a whole bunch of others, but I lack cis privilege, male privilege and straight privilege.
That means that if we’re comparing me to, say, a white male working class heterosexual person who left school at 16 and has a minimum wage job, this person has various things going for them I do not: they’re a white man, they’re straight, they’re not trans all things society values, but I’m wealthier, have a Cambridge degree, and access to people with influence.
So which of us is more oppressed? You cam’t tell, because privilege isn’t a single variable; it’s a multi dimensional space. On one axis I have privilege this man does not, on another he has privilege I do not.
Who is more oppressed? It depends on the circumstances.
But what about the TERFs?
TERF analysis isn’t like this. Their analysis is based on class. There are two classes: the oppressor class (male) and the oppressed class (female), and that’s it, end of. All men have the power to oppress all women, and women can’t oppress anybody because they are the oppressed class.
So their discussion to try and understand straight privilege is a comical exercise in missing the point. At first they argue that it doesn’t exist, presumably because straight women and lesbians are both women, and straight men and gay men are both men. This “feels wrong” though, because they know homophobia is a thing, so how can they include that in their analysis?
The way they’re trying to square the circle is by reducing it to things that men do to lesbians that they don’t do to straight women. Straight privilege exists, apparently, because lesbians are exposed to corrective rape, and straight women are not.
That seems to be about as far as they’ve got. They can only understand the concept of relative privilege in terms of how their oppressor class (men) interact with their oppressed class (women). Any more complicated analysis appears to elude them because of cognitive dissonance.
“But this multi dimensional privilege space doesn’t seem that hard to understand, Sarah! Why can’t they grasp that, or at least think about it?”
TERFs can’t see privilege for what it is because TERFs are awful human beings who use their privilege as a weapon to terrorise trans women. If they were able to conceptualise privilege in a way independent of their oppressor male/victim female discourse, the full horror of what horrible people they are, and just how evil their behaviour is, would suddenly hit them in the face.
Presumably they wouldn’t enjoy this much.
That’s why their clumsy attempts to understand straight privilege are comical. They’re trying to find something in a room that the elephant they’re trying to ignore is sat on.